Free shipping on all orders over $75🎄

When a screech owl moved into our owl house outside the kitchen window earlier this winter, I felt lucky. I enjoyed seeing the consistent pattern of her behavior, even felt a kinship. Each day she’d stick her head out of the round opening right before dusk. I kept a pair of binoculars near the window to study her half-opened eyes. I, too, logged many hours at dusk over the years keeping watch on the backyard. When my four boys were young, I needed to keep an eye on them while cooking dinner.

This real-life owl reminded me of all the books I read to my kids with owl characters. Owl BabiesOwl Moon and Sam and the Firefly rotated often in our book routine. In those years, my boys knew the words by heart. I read to them nearly every night because one of the things I knew was that reading to a child was the most important thing. I parroted this phrase back to myself when worry gripped me that I might be falling short in other ways.

Dusk was the time of day when doubt consumed me the most. It started at the beginning of my parenting years, when I had two boys under the age of two. Someone always was crying in those early evenings. My mom would try to make me feel better.

“It’s why they call it the witching hour.”

In the toddler years, I dreaded dusk because it ushered in dinner hour as well as my daily worry about whether or not I was feeding my kids well. No matter what kind of mom I’d been during the day, none of it mattered when 5 p.m. rolled around. It was the hour I greeted my internal question while trying to figure out what could be made quickly that would make everyone happy and that wasn’t chicken nuggets. The guilt I felt when it was chicken nuggets or when I wasn’t making enough vegetables. If it was or wasn’t organic, free-range, unprocessed. The wondering why one of my kids was such a picky eater and if it was somehow my fault. The kitchen was my lightning rod for judgment, every day—was I doing enough?

As the boys got older, chaos defined dusk, who needed to be where and when, by backpack flyers, school projects, and after-school activities. Dusk was glue guns, a toddler in the car with Goldfish crackers, diamond-shaped dirt droppings from muddy cleats. It was coming home to a dark kitchen that waited for its Skipper, the question, what’s for dinner?

Dusk was the time I’d succeed or fail at transforming the kitchen into the warm evening hub that defined a sense of home, that would plant good memories. I carried around a load of knowledge. I knew the research. Eating together mattered, maybe as much as reading. It was linked to academic success, achievement on tests, positive self-esteem. It lowered the risks of children using drugs. These facts tumbled around my head at day’s end. My cold stove, at 4 p.m., elicited performance anxiety.

My first decade of parenting was marked by so much wondering, especially about which things mattered the most when it was impossible to do them all. I wanted to prioritize. I wanted guarantees. Was it broccoli? Unstructured time? Piano lessons? Eating together? Turmeric? My original stack of parenting books, collected in 1994, seemed charming in retrospect to the internet in full throttle.

“The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of dusk,” said 17th century philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.

My backyard owl operates on instinct. I watch it first-hand, while reflecting how I neglected instinct in my early years of mothering, rolled my eyes at my mother-in-law who told me “motherhood is on-the-job training.” Back then I’d sharply disagree, pull out a research article or book and read to her passages on whatever strategy I’d adopted. One long week it was the Ferber MethodI was struggling to get my son to sleep at night. I followed the advice precisely. When he was finally quiet, after long hours of crying, I was relieved and convinced it’d worked. I went to check on him in his room. My quiet entrance turned into a run when I saw that he had fallen asleep standing up, his head draped over the crib railing. For a long moment I panicked, sure he had choked himself on the railing. That was the end of the Ferber Method. With my next two sons, I crawled into bed with them, forgetting about any professional “sleep techniques”.

I grew stronger throughout my second decade of parenting. Part of it might have been parenting exhaustion, part of it was probably linked to signs here and there that my kids were evolving into fine citizens, kind boys. I found reasons to hope that my picky eater would broaden his palate when he ate his first Italian sub on a bus one day before a tennis match.

When that same picky eater, now a college student, texts me pictures of his own homemade chicken soup I regret all that worry. And, I wish I could retroactively send myself a video of my four grown boys clamoring to the same seats they used to sit in when they return home for breaks.

“You are doing fine,” my text might read. “Look at who they will become.”

These days, dusk is clarity, an understanding of what actually mattered. Dusk is the owl sticking out her head, and me feeling glad she is there. The power of presence is real. It’s the only parenting thing I really needed to know.

You may also like:

Kids Want Time, Not Gifts

Let Us Raise Boys Who Have Respect Running Through Their Veins

Growing Up, You First Then Me

So God Made a Mother book by Leslie Means

If you liked this, you'll love our new book, SO GOD MADE A MOTHER available now!

Order Now

Megan Houston Sager

Megan Houston Sager, Ed.M, is a teacher, college essay coach and mom to four mostly grown sons.

A Backpack and a Father’s Love

In: Grown Children, Living
Yellow backpack

My grandma’s standard answer when it came time to discuss upcoming events, holidays, or family gatherings was the following, “I’ll be there . . . if I’m still here.” “See you at Christmas, Grandma!” Or, “Can’t wait to come visit this summer.” Or, “Wow, it will be so exciting to have you at our wedding.” “I’ll be there . . . if I’m still here,” was always her response. And the thing is, for a very long time, she was. She enjoyed nearly 90 years and took in every possible moment when it came to time with family and friends....

Keep Reading

When Mama Doesn’t Love

In: Grown Children, Living, Motherhood
Little girl, black and white photo

She is nine years old, squeezed into the far corner of the bathtub, fully clothed, legs folded to her chest. She feels the slap-slap sting of the belt. She disobeyed. Her heartbeat roars in her head, and she wonders if she will die this time. Her heart aches from the words. Silent tears fall, and the words and the strap stop. She sees red welts on her arms and legs but feels only the numbness of her empty heart. She slowly rises to hide in her spot in the shed. She pulls out her diary and writes. The words her...

Keep Reading

You’re the Mother-in-Law I Dream of Being One Day

In: Grown Children, Motherhood
Grandmother holding baby with big sister looking on, color photo

To my dear mother-in-law, Thank you for showing me that good mothers-in-law really do exist. I hear so often about the stereotypical mother-in-law who ends up alienating her daughters-in-law. You are not one of those. You have totally won my heart instead. Thank you that on days when I feel my world unraveling, I can gather up my little ones, and crash down at your place where you welcome us with open arms. I did it the other day. My overstimulated brain and body needed a break, so in a sort of desperation, I got myself and the four littles...

Keep Reading

Hello From the Middle of the Middle Years

In: Grown Children, Living, Motherhood, Teen
Teen boy helping elderly man up the stairs, color photo

I am middle-aged. I honestly don’t know how or when I got here, but it’s legit. It’s not just in the number I say out loud when someone asks me how old I am. Or when I give my students my birth year and am returned with perplexed questions as they try to comprehend how I could have actually existed in the 1900s. So, that makes you like… historical? So, you were there when MLK died? So, you’re like, 82? I definitely need to talk to their math teacher. This middle-aged business pulled up for a ride out of nowhere. I feel...

Keep Reading

My Dad Remarried after My Mom Died, and as a Daughter It’s Bittersweet

In: Grief, Grown Children, Loss
Older couple walking on beach holding hands

My dad ran off with a woman from California. When you put it like that, it sounds salacious and a faux pax, but the reality is a lot less interesting. My mom died of cancer at the cusp of my adulthood, leaving me and a gaggle of siblings behind. Six months later, my dad met a widow in California, connected with her, fell in love, and decided to move our family to California to be with her. Two years almost to the day after my mother died, my father married my stepmother. (I have photographic evidence of the event, I...

Keep Reading

Sharing a Birthday with My Dad Is the Best Gift of All

In: Grown Children
Old, color photo of father and tween daughter blowing out candles

I have the best dad. I know many people say that about their dad, but I really do. He is the kind of person who lights up a room with his smile or his hearty laugh—the kind that makes you start cracking up just by hearing it. His heart is made of solid gold, and he makes everyone feel like the most important person in the room. He exudes the kind of joy that radiates like sunshine beaming through the darkest storm. He loves everyone and everything. Especially his birthday. And not just for the ordinary reasons people love their birthday—the...

Keep Reading

Seeing My Dad’s Illness through My Child’s Eyes Hurts More

In: Grown Children, Living, Motherhood
Little girl and grandpa walking down sidewalk, color photo

It’s extremely hard to see your parent sick. It’s a million times harder to see your child’s grandparent sick. It may not make sense, but if you’ve been there, it probably hits close to home. The fact is there is a very real, very significant difference between the two. While both are challenging and heartbreaking in their own ways, the latter is a whole other form of hurt. One you can’t fully prepare for. When my dad recently started undergoing significant health issues, we all reacted in different ways. As adult children, we knew this would always be a possibility....

Keep Reading

A Grandma’s Love Is Stronger Than DNA

In: Grown Children, Motherhood
Woman with toddler granddaughter, black-and-white photo

This baby girl. I shouldn’t love her like I do. But, I do. She’s not mine. Yet, I feel like she is. Or, maybe I feel like I am hers.  Three years ago I got remarried to a man with a young adult daughter. I immediately felt adoration for this daughter who wasn’t mine. But coming along later in her life, I knew my expectations must be kept safely in check. She already had a mother. She even had a stepmother before me. Her heart must have been familiar with breaks I had yet to know at her tender age. ...

Keep Reading

I Am a Mother Evolving

In: Grown Children, Kids, Motherhood, Teen
Mother and child walking by water in black and white photo

Those who mean well squawk the refrain— “The days are long, but the years are short.” They said I would miss it— little feet and newborn baby smell nursing in the wee hours with a tiny hand clutching mine. Tying shoes,  playing tooth fairy,  soothing scary dreams. They were fine times, but I do not wish them back. RELATED: Mamas, Please Quit Mourning Your Children Growing Up I rather enjoy these days of my baby boy suddenly looking like a young man in a baseball uniform  on a chilly Wednesday in April. And my Amazonian teenage girl  with size 11...

Keep Reading

Watching My Mom Lose Her Best Friend Is Hard

In: Grief, Grown Children, Loss
Two women walking, color photo

Today, my mom lost one of her best friends. Today the news came. Suddenly. Unexpectedly. Traumatically. Ripping a hole in the heart of her world and the world of all who knew and loved her. Today I realized so many things. Things I already know but always lose sight of. Things like, nothing is ever guaranteed. Things like, you never know when it will be your last text . . . your last hug . . . your last power walk . . . your last everything with a person who is so deeply connected to your heart and soul...

Keep Reading